Ever since having to give up running last year, I’ve turned to swimming as my main workout. My gym has an indoor, heated, salt-water pool with 25-yard lanes, and there I do my laps. In the year and a half I’ve been swimming, I have definitely progressed. I don’t fatigue as easily, my lap times have improved, and I feel more “in the flow” when I move, rather than just chopping furiously through the water.

I see my husband and friends competing in all these 5Ks and races and stuff and have been bummed that there’s nothing like that for swimming. (Typical triathlon relays don’t count, because swimming in the open water is nothing–NOTHING–like doing solo laps in heated, aquamarine pool.) So when I saw an advertisement for a duathlon (swimming and running) (a) with a relay option and (b) that took place in a pool, I felt like I couldn’t turn it down. My husband Bryan agreed to be my running teammate, but then once it came time to send in the entry form, I got cold feet and let it sit for a while. I don’t consider myself a competitive swimmer! I may swim faster than the 50-year-old man in the lane next to me, but then along comes a 17-year-old girl from her high school’s swim team, and she butterflies my ass out of the water. I swim because it’s a good workout. Because it doesn’t bother my hip. Because on 90 degree days it just feels darn good to leave the hot car and jump into the cool water.

Finally, I talked myself back into doing the event, mostly because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite for whining about there not being any pool-related competitions, and then when the opportunity arises, for me to turn it down. Also, Bryan sent in the check and kind of bypassed me in the process. 🙂

After a week of above-average temperatures extending into the 90s, Saturday, duathlon day, started out a chilly 56 degrees with only a high of 79 predicted. I reached into the back of my dresser to pull out the sweatpants and hoodie I thought I had tucked away for good until at least September. Even though the swim event was taking place in a pool, the pool was outside. Outside, unheated, and chlorinated.

This picture pretty much sums up my feelings about how things went:

That’s me, after my 500 meters, panting like a dog, dubious that I had really only swam 10 complete laps and not the 25 like it had felt, and way disappointed at my time. In my practice runs at the gym, I clocked in between 7:12 and 7:38 for 10 laps; however, the lengths between the two pools are not exactly equal. My time for this 500m was 11:02.

It started off the moment I jumped in the water–it was COLD. Not Atlantic Ocean cold, but much colder than what I was used to. I instantly felt my chest tighten, and I bobbed up and down trying to warm up. Once I started swimming, I felt OK for the first half of my first lap…and then I looked to see how close I was to the wall, and there was a lot more space to go. My body was so used to hitting the wall after so many strokes, and in this bizarro pool everything was just a tad longer. The gap in between where my mind said “wall” and where the actual wall was felt like miles, and with that thought my brain went into full-blown panic mode.

The sensation that resulted was probably akin to a panic attack…not being able to breathe, feeling like you’re going to die, just wanting someone to end your misery. It wasn’t exhaustion or panting, just more like someone flipping an “off” button in my lungs. I attempted to keep swimming at this time, but it didn’t last very long. I had stop several times in the middle of the pool, stand in place, and regain my composure. Then I’d swim, swim, swim, STOP AND BREATHE FOR DEAR LIFE. I heard Bryan on the side of the pool shout my name for motivation, and that made me feel worse, because I just could not get my act together, not even for my husband.

The first five laps were a mess. At the gym, I normally follow a stroke-stroke-stroke-breathe pattern; now it was stroke-breathe, stroke-breathe. Just focus on your breathing, my yoga mind told my floundering body. Visualize that oxygen pumping throughout your body, and the rest will fall into place. I could have done an hour of pranayama practice before this event; none of it would have made a difference. (Also, it’s a bit hard to do alternate nostril breathing while swimming.) I totally lost count of what lap I was on, and because I had my mondo earplugs in, I couldn’t hear what the timers on the side were saying. I could have been on lap five, maybe lap 15. I had no idea. I just keep on swimming.

Things began feeling slightly better somewhere between Lap 6 and 7. I frantically thought of a mantra I could repeat, and I stuck with Om Namah Shivaya, the only one that came into my head at the time. It would work for a few strokes, my mind would drift off, and then I’d have to corral it back in again. I also tried to focus on fluidity–You’re dancing! I told myself. Just move with grace through the water, approach it like the Flowing portion of 5Rhythms.

It was some of the crappiest dancing I’ve ever done, but the pep talks and visualizations helped me complete all 10 laps without dying, giving up, or requesting to finish the race in the baby pool.

As I said, my time was 11:02. I pouted and moped, but then I saw someone swim without once putting her head in the water, and I felt a little better.

An hour later, it was time for the 5K portion. Bryan started off strong, but the less-than-ideal road conditions (being forced to run on the sidewalk and dodge yard sale-goers) slowed him down and flattened him out mentally. He still ran a relatively fast 23-something, but it wasn’t his normal time.

We both sulked back to the clubhouse with little gray clouds over our heads and the Charlie Brown Christmas Song playing in the background (sorry, had to throw in an Arrested Development reference there!).

However, despite our mediocre times, we came in first place for the team category of the event! Alone, our times wouldn’t have gotten us any prizes, but together we took home a $20 gift certificate for the local running/sports store.

There’s no “I” in duathlon…teamwork rocks!

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